By Tom Titus
4:29 PM PDT, October 30, 2012
"Wait Until Dark" often can be a long wait for theatergoers familiar with the story (and, after nearly 50 years, who isn't?) as they sit patiently through playwright Frederick Knott's circuitous plot development and await the climactic showdown between the menacing thug and the blind heroine.
At the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where the theater's second incarnation of the suspense thriller is on stage, expository moments are rendered more palatable by some fine performances, particularly that of Rebecca Bollar as Susy Hendrix, the sightless woman battling three baddies for possession of a heroin-filled doll.
Blair is highly convincing in her depiction of blindness, frequently running full tilt into misplaced furniture, as she plots her defense — and offense — with a little neighbor girl (an excellent Chloe East) who's initially a pain in the neck, but gradually warms to Susy's side.
As Roat, the leader of the drug hunters, the husky Ed McBride employs more gruff, physical force than his character's usual silver-tongued menace. This works well enough on the other two thugs (Garrett Chandler and Avi Wilk), but is hardly an effective tactic against the sightless Susy. Nevertheless, McBride makes his Roat a force to be reckoned with.
Chandler, as Mike Talman, the con man who feigns a previous friendship with Susy's Marine husband, Sam, comes off as almost likable, although we see the wheels of avarice turn as he reassures her. Wilk is quite believable as the rough-hewn Sgt. Carlino, even though he appears a bit young for the assignment.
The role of the husband, seen only in the opening sequence, is a key figure, laying the groundwork for Susy's subsequent bravery. As Sam, Mike McBride (Ed's offstage cousin) brings a smooth combination of love and determination to this expository assignment.
Directing such a physically complicated and demanding play is a major challenge, one which Danielle MacInnis, in her first turn in the director's chair, handles splendidly for the most part. There are a few staging snafus — Talman's final moments, Roat's sudden re-appearance in his skirmish with Susy — that could have been depicted more effectively, but MacInnis, who also designed the costumes, establishes the suspense and the character relationships quite smoothly.
MacInnis and Ryan Linhardt — who's responsible for the tricky lighting scheme — have designed the basement apartment setting with particular attention to detail. The climactic scene is played out in total blackness, save for an on again-off again refrigerator light, rather than using a dim work light to offer some insight for the audience.
"Wait Until Dark" uses both cerebral and physical menace to keep its audiences spellbound. It's a challenge well met at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Wait Until Dark"
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 18, and 6 p.m. Nov. 11 through Nov.18
Cost: $13 to $18
Information: (949) 650-5269 or CostaMesaPlayhouse.org